Catching Up

The minis have been with us now for over a year, having arrived in October 2015. I’m aware that I had great intentions of keeping this blog active at least once a week and have not kept anywhere close to that schedule. For my followers, sorry about that. I’ll try to do better this year.

So I just thought I’d take a minute and catch up on what we’ve learned and experienced in the past year and a half with some updates on horse-related projects on the farm. First, the horses themselves. At just shy of two years old, they’re still enchanting on a daily basis. They do everything big horses do, but more quietly, more easily, more cheaply. A big plus for owning minis. If you don’t need or can’t ride, but still need to be around horses, they’re the perfect solution.

Mr. Peaberry, the stud, is now closing in on 33 inches tall and maintains weight around 195 pounds. He still has his magnificent spots and black stockings. Java, the mare, is just a hair under 30 inches and maintains weight around 165.

Java’s color changes a little month by month. I try to keep both of the horses clipped to make it easier to groom them so they can stay a little cleaner. Fungal skin infections are a problem in this island environment, so good skin care is a must.


Her overall dark bay has become a sort of bay roan with a spotted blanket over her hips. I expect she will end up being mostly white with some nice, but small Appy spots. Their feeding regimen includes timothy hay pellets in the morning, a light serving of alfalfa cubes in the afternoon, and orchard grass hay in the evening, along with free access to plenty of water and a salt/trace mineral block. Depending on how their overall body condition looks, I might skip the alfalfa cubes for a few days or trade out alfalfa cubes for the hay on some days – they seem to pretty flexible about that, as long as they get their timothy pellets in the morning. There’s nothing sadder than their little faces if you try to switch that out on them. With a daily supplement of Vitamin E, and regular (every two to three months) deworming, their hair coats, manes, and tails, look great. Because their pen is fairly rocky, their hooves stay trimmed with only occasional filing needed. All in all, we’ve had no major injuries or illnesses, so knocking on wood that stays the norm.

Fencing of their roughly 2400 square foot pen has required a little shoring up. Though it seems to be a good size for them and they get up a good gallop in there, once the vegetable garden went in adjacent to the north side fence, Mr. Peaberry figured out just how long it would take to worry the fence wire enough to make a hole big enough to poke his nose into the garden. We’re taking steps to strengthen that fence and to move the accessible plants a little further away. But overall, it’s worked out well. We are also improving the little shed where their food, grooming tools, and tack are kept to allow easier access and more storage. Hay bales are bigger and less accessible here than they were in Colorado, so I didn’t allow enough room to store more than one bale. Because we’re never sure exactly when new hay will come in on the boat (it all has to be shipped here from the mainland), it’s become regular routine to keep at least two of everything in storage, just in case.

We have enough 6-foot lightweight panels to create a flexible space of about 216 square feet (12’x18′) maximum or stretch an extra wall across their pen or enclose their loafing shed if we need to isolate one or the other. These came in very handy when I had to put Java on stall rest for a few days, so that Peaberry couldn’t entice her into running around the pen.

The temporary fence panels we put together out of PVC pipe (see previous posts) have come in handy for keeping them confined when we’re working on a project in their pen or allowing limited grazing in other places on the farm, but we learned that the bungees with little balls on the end are just too much fun for Peaberry to pop off (even though they sometimes pop him in the face). I have to secure each panel with at least three or four bungees to make sure they stay secure.

Training wise, they halter and lead pretty nicely and love to stand for thorough brushing and fussing. We are converting a Windstar van to a transportation system for them, and I guess when it’s ready, we’ll find out just how well they halter and lead in strange situations. We’ve had a new county facility with an arena go in just a few minutes down the road where I will be able to reserve time for me (and other local mini owners) to use the arena for training. I’ve bought harness and now that they’re two and ready to think, I will start ground work to prepare for cart driving with them.

Tim with Mr. Peaberry decked out in his Christmas parade outfit that we didn’t end up debuting this year. Java has a green blanket and halter with red sequined poinsettias. We’ll try for the 2017 parade.

I had hoped to put them in their first event in December (the Christmas parade), but a few days before the parade, Java had a little bout of lameness (a bruise, apparently, cured by a few days of stall rest). Since this would have been their first public outing, I decided not to stress the situation. We’ll try for the Kamehameha Day parade in June instead.

We’re planning to expand their space a bit . . . after a year and a half of living here, we’ve realized the quonset hut greenhouse that came with the property is going to be more useful as a stallion refuge/foaling pen. The plan is to convert its 600+ square feet into a completely covered area where I can move Peaberry when needed, or separate a mare about to foal. We’re hoping to add one or two more mares to our little herd, so that we have one or two foals per year for sale. The market for them seems to be pretty good on the island (and on neighbor islands) but there’s not a lot of breeding going on, so I think we won’t flood the market with that approach.

I’ve started a Facebook page for people on Hawaii Island to share information about their minis (Hawaii Island Miniature Horses), and we’ve had people from some of the other islands and even a few mainlanders join in on there.

So overall, things are going well. I’ll try to do more posting of the cute things they do and photos because they’re just fun, along with documenting the van transformation.

A hui hou.




December Vet Visit

The December 9 visit from the vet confirmed that the minis are doing great in their new home. Their 2-month quarantine period is almost over and Dr. Hamilton, from Veterinary Associates, came all the way from Waimea (an hour and a half drive) to check them out and draw blood for the required follow-up Coggins test. The Coggins test checks for equine infectious anemia and is usually performed anytime a horse leaves its home turf, for transfer to a new home or to attend a parade or show that would put it in contact with other horses. Horses that are imported into Hawaii from the mainland or other countries are subject to a two-month quarantine, staying at least 200 yards away from other horses on the owner’s property or under surveillance at a state-approved facility to ensure they’re not carrying any infectious diseases. Failing to provide the follow-up Coggins test can result in a $10,000 fine, so I was excited to find Dr. Hamilton and schedule the appointment.

The vet arrived with an assistant and a vet student from UC-Davis gaining additional experience on the ground. Having been through the time-wasting scenarios when owners don’t have their horses ready for the vet or massage therapist, I was prepared with the horses haltered and on lead ropes when the vet’s SUV pulled up just minutes after the appointed time.

Dr. Hamilton (in pink) and visiting vet student Jim listen to the horses’ hearts and lungs.

We got right to work, with Dr. Hamilton and the vet student taking over the horses and the assistant filling out paperwork, while I photographed and asked questions.

I explained that we were experimenting with new coffee-themed names for Comanche and after a few ideas were tossed around, the vet suggested “Mr. Peaberry”. I think we have a winner. For those not familiar with the coffee industry, a peaberry occurs every now and then when only one coffee bean develops inside the cherry instead of the usual two. Because it’s a single, it is usually larger than normal and some feel that makes it more robust in flavor as well as size. Peaberry coffee is therefore considered a premium product. Comanche, I mean, Mr. Peaberry, certainly seems to fit, robust and a little on the large side for Falabellas (although still extremely tiny at his current 29.5 inches). Certainly a premium product.

He was first up for an examination and right up until the time when a needle became part of the deal, he did great. He stood patiently while first the vet student then the vet took all his vital signs and listened to his lungs and heart through a stethoscope. He even stood still while they tried to wade through the long, silky hairs on his neck to find the jugular vein. It was just when the poke came that he lost it a little and reared. Now when a regular horse rears, it’s a terrifying thing. When you think about the damage a sharp hoof could do to someone’s skull when driven downwards with the force of a 1000-pound horse behind it, it’s a serious problem. When a miniature horse rears, I hate to say it, but it’s a little comical. Certainly, an ill-placed hoof or head butt could do some damage, but even on his hind legs, he still wasn’t as tall as the student. It didn’t take long for him to settle down to his usual easy-going self and the necessary blood was drawn. One down.

The entire time that Mr. Peaberry (still trying it on, but I like that!) was being poked and prodded, Java was standing close at hand, watching with calm, cool interest.

java vet
Java, always suspicious with new activities, seemed okay with having her vital signs checked.

After he was done and his halter was removed, she was up and although she’s normally the more skittish of the two, she stayed relatively calm through the whole ordeal. Well, the horses thought it was an ordeal, but I have to say the vet and her assistants did a very efficient and humane job throughout.

Everyone agreed that these were two of the cutest little creatures in existence, so of course, I’ve found the vet we’ll be using from now on. Since I’m still new to horsekeeping on the island, and it’s a very different environment than my previous horse experience, I asked a lot of questions and Dr. Hamilton was quite kind to answer them all very patiently. She said the feeding regimen I have them on seems to be just right to meet their nutritional needs, but suggested I might add a capsule or two of Vitamin E to their feed daily. Since hay and pelleted feeds have to be shipped in they are never as fresh as their mainland counterparts and tend to lose a little nutritional value along the way. This makes sense to me and I’ll begin adding that supplement.

She also clarified that annual vaccinations here are a little different than the mainland. The important vaccines are tetanus, rhinopneumonitis, and equine flu, which I can buy from the feed store and administer myself. Equine encephalitis and West Nile virus aren’t usually found here, and although there was an outbreak some time ago, most vets don’t currently recommend vaccinating for them. And rabies is nonexistent on the island so not even dogs are vaccinated against that disease. She suggested a quarterly deworming regimen, and double dosing Strongid to get rid of tapeworms.

Finding the vein amidst all that hair takes a lot of practice.

Since most tubes of dewormers carry a dose for horses up to 1200 pounds, I should be able to get a year’s worth out of one tube. Fortunately, the tubes are marked for weights ranging from 200 to 1200 pounds, so I can scale down the dose easily.

Dr. Hamilton liked my setup with the free choice mineral block and shade shelter (to which we’ve added rubber stall mats so the horses will always have a place with dry footing). She noticed I have a couple of small feeder goldfish in the water tub. I explained that I have always done that to avoid breeding mosquitoes, especially important right now since we’re facing a dengue fever outbreak on the Big Island. The horses also seem to get a kick out of watching the fish swim around and I imagine the water must taste better with a little fish waste – at least they seem to think so. I have to take them out when I clean the water tub, but they don’t seem to mind taking up temporary quarters in a cup for the few minutes it takes to do that every other day.

All in all, it was a great vet visit, and good to hear that I’m keeping my little ones healthy and happy. Although they won’t be out of quarantine in time for the Kailua-Kona Christmas parade this year, we’ll soon start working on crowd response and noise conditioning so they can participate in the next one.


Coming Home

After several false starts, October 17 was designated as the flight date from Los Angeles to Kona. That morning, we were putting the finishing touches on the paddock and loafing shed right up until time to leave for the airport. I had an email from Andee at Pacific Airlift confirming that the horses were loaded and the flight would depart on time. It was a very long day, but we had been instructed to arrive at the airport at 2:30 with the trailer and we would be given further instructions for pickup when the horses arrived.

At 2:30 on the dot, an enormous airplane pulled up on the tarmac at about the same time as our new friend with the trailer. The plane looked like any passenger jet, but instead of people coming off, metal livestock containers were being conveyed via a lift onto waiting flatbed trucks that drove away someplace we couldn’t see. We knew one of those containers had to be holding our precious little cargo, but it was impossible to see into them from our location on the other side of the runway fence. So we watched as the last container came off and waited for further instructions.

About 3:00, the state veterinarian called with directions to the location for pick up. We found them in typical Hawaii fashion . . . standing on the side of the road with the state veterinarian trying to fill out paperwork in the wind, and the groom that had traveled with them holding two lead ropes with two very perplexed, and very tiny horses on the other end. Transactions on the side of the road seem to be the norm here, so the informality of the transfer was no real surprise. Everyone assured us these were the cutest little horses they’d ever seen and of course, we thought so too. The veterinarian performed a quick check to make sure the horses were okay and that the paperwork was in order and gave me instructions regarding their “quarantine.” Horses imported into Hawaii must stay at least 200 yards away from other horses or be sprayed with an approved insecticide daily for a period of two months after which they have to undergo a follow-up Coggins test submitted to the state veterinarian’s office.

The horses seemed to be no worse for the wear of the trip, though they looked a little surprised to suddenly find themselves in a distinctly different environment with a bunch of strangers surrounding them.

Mahalo to Linda Bloomfield (leading Java) of Therapeutic Horses of Hawaii for the use of her mini-trailer.

After we signed the paperwork, we loaded them into the trailer without any fuss, Java huddling next to Comanche for comfort. We arrived at our place 45 minutes later without incident, and they unloaded like champs, preferring

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Leading the horses into the paddock on arrival. Java (in the back) was anxious to catch up with Comanche.

to leap out headfirst. We led them into their new paddock and removed both halters after showing them where to find fresh water. Within minutes, they were eating the kikuyu pasture grass, grazing peacefully together as though nothing unusual had happened that day. Never mind that they had traveled almost 5000 miles over the past week, leaving their former pasture mates far behind. They were a new herd of two now and they stuck together as though glued at the hip as they explored their new paddock. By the time we had satisfied ourselves that they were settled in, the sun was going down. It was time to leave them for the night, so we closed the gate and headed indoors. We checked on them before we went to bed and they were still doing fine, so heaving a huge sigh of contentment at the smell of fresh manure now wafting through the air, I slept, with visions of all the fun we would have with these two swirling in my dreams.

The next morning, Tim got up as usual to make coffee, and of course, he went out to check on the horses first thing. I did not think it was funny when he came running back to the bedroom with the news that the horses were gone. Unfortunately, he wasn’t joking. The gate was open and the paddock was empty. I remembered hearing the dogs barking around midnight, but I hadn’t checked to see what set them off. Apparently, it was the horses making their escape. Tim started checking the coffee groves around the house and I jumped in the car to check the roadways. Now I was having visions of their little bodies crushed on the road. They’re about the same size and color as the wild pigs in Kona, so someone might easily hit one on the road or shoot at them thinking they were pigs. They might catch their tiny legs in a pig snare and be struggling somewhere. Any number of things could happen to them and none of them were good. I knew they wouldn’t know their way home after just one night in the paddock, nor would they know who I was if I found them. I comforted myself that maybe someone had stolen them and then I worried about how we would get them back from that unfeeling person who had taken them. After twenty minutes of wondering how this could have happened and torturing myself with the worst possible thoughts as I searched every possible road within a few miles (there aren’t many on this part of the island), it occurred to me that neither of us had grabbed our phones so even if we found them, we had no way to tell each other. In my haste to start the search, I had also made the rookie mistake of going out without a rope or halter.

I headed back to the house to find Tim holding my phone out to me. We agreed that we needed to calm down and be more thoughtful about how we approached the problem. He asked if I had seen any tracks and foolishly, I had to admit I had completely forgotten to look. So I took my phone, a halter and a lead rope, and starting at the open gate, sure enough, there were tiny hoofprints leading away from the paddock, around the fence, and uphill past the house. Clearly, that was what started the dogs barking. I should have trusted them, though it would have been impossible to round up two little horses in the dark.

I thought if I could just pull on what little tracking skills I had left from studying with a master tracker thirty years ago, maybe we had a shot of recovery. There were no people print, so my theory of theft fell by the wayside. This was a simple escape. Following the hoofprints was a study in patience. They led uphill, a typical horse behavior when faced with this sort of topography. But the ground is rocky and doesn’t hold a track well. I resorted to looking at overturned pebbles, scraped places in the rock, and trails through the morning dew on plants. Here I would find a tail hair caught on a branch and there was a chewed-off piece of grass. I kept after it for another twenty minutes, hoping our neighbors wouldn’t mind me traipsing through their coffee groves at dawn, and then, wonder of wonders, I saw two little horses calmly eating grass at the top of the neighbor’s property. A rock wall that ran across the back and one side of the property stopped them, just about two hundred yards directly behind our house. My heart rate slowed back to normal and I called Tim to report where I found them.

They weren’t panicky, but they were in a completely foreign place on a steep slope with treacherous footing and of course, they had no clue who we were. Since they’re so young, and they arrived with halters on, I wasn’t sure how reliably halter broken they might be. Was this trip the first time they’d ever worn halters? Every time one of us would get close enough to lay a hand on one of them, they would both shoot past us and into the coffee trees. Now, coffee trees aren’t very tall, but these little horses would simply disappear among them. Tim brought a pan of feed with hopes that they would recognize that time-honored sound and come running to us, but they didn’t seem to care much about it after a full night of grazing.

After we were both exhausted from going up and down hill, trying to avoid the pukas (holes) and rocks that littered the landscape while keeping the horses as calm as possible, we finally had them sort of sandwiched between us on a relatively level stretch of ground.

Waiting patiently for a chance to get a rope on one of them.

We sat down and waited, slowly ooching towards one another when the horses had their heads down and eyes averted. We now had totally calm horses standing in the twenty feet between us. As Comanche’s curiosity got the better of him and he started investigating the pan of timothy pellets, Tim slowly draped a loop of lead rope over his head. I held my breath as the rope caught on one ear but we finally caught some luck as a little head flip slid the rope completely down around his neck. Once we had him secured by the rope, I was able to get the halter on. Java watched all of this with interest, but was unwilling to come close enough for a repeat performance. With Comanche now in hand, Tim led him in a scramble down the slope back to our house, with Java following close behind. It took us three hours from the time we discovered they were gone until we had them safely back in the paddock.

What we learned was that our latch apparently was not fully closed. It looked like it, since the clip was fully around the chain, but in fact, the chain simply slipped through the clip when one of the horses pushed against the gate. A stupid mistake that could have ended very badly, indeed, and one that neither of us will ever make again. We now check and double-check the chains and clips to ensure that the clip goes through the chain and have even put a secondary clip on the gates in case one opens accidentally, so that there will always be a backup closure. These horses are too precious to risk losing them through carelessness.

two cute
How cute are those little faces?

Our new charges were off to a rather inauspicious start, but we were happy to have them back safe and sound, and even more happy that they didn’t seem to be concerned at all about any of the events of the past twenty-four hours. As we checked on them throughout the day, I was flooded with relief that they seemed to be okay. Now that the crisis had been averted, I couldn’t wait to get to know these remarkable little sprites.

Moving Little Horses to Hawaii

3. Toyland Comanche and Toyland Java became part of our family in early September 2015 when I made the final payment. But getting them to our farm in Hawaii from their birth barn near Chicago, Illinois was not easy. I started looking into transportation options during the summer. I was hoping it would be as simple as flying to Chicago, putting them in a giant dog crate and flying back with them using United Airlines’ Petsafe program, as we did when we moved our dog, Blue, from Colorado. After all, at 26 and 28 inches tall, they weren’t much bigger than Blue. The representative at United assured me they would not allow horses to fly no matter how small they might be. I asked around the horse owners I knew on the island and they all recommended Young Brothers. I called Young Brothers, but the person I talked to said the horses would have to be shipped to Honolulu, Oahu first then brought by barge to their port in Kawaihae, a five-day trip over what can be rough water. They would only handle the portion of the trip from Oahu to the Big Island, leaving me to figure out all the details of getting them to Oahu, where they would be checked in by a state-approved veterinarian. That led me to further investigation of the quarantine rules but I couldn’t get a straight answer from the Department of Agriculture or other horse owners about what was actually required. Over the years, I had transported many horses to many places, but never to an island and never having to use more than a single truck with a trailer. With what appeared to be some combination of planes, trains, automobiles, and barges getting involved, it was getting more and more complicated, so I called Island Pet Movers, the company that helped take care of transporting my parrot when we moved to Hawaii, since they were so good at handling all the complex details of importing birds to this island. Their advice was to contact Pacific Airlift, a company that specializes in moving livestock on and off the islands.

I immediately called the good folks at Pacific Airlift and left a message. While I was waiting for them to call back, I studied their website and the Department of Agriculture’s rules on importing livestock. It seemed that, contrary to what I was being told by horse owners, horses can be brought into the state at any port on any island, as long as a state-approved veterinarian will be on hand to check them in. Pacific Airlift’s website suggested that they make occasional flights directly to Kona from Los Angeles. I felt like we were finally getting somewhere. When Andee Patterson from Pacific Airlift called me back, she assured me that they would take care of all the transportation and paperwork details from door to door, or at least from the barn in Illinois to the Kona International Airport, including making sure the state veterinarian would be on hand. At this point, I no longer cared about the cost – I had someone who would help me navigate the complexities of the move.

It looked like mid-October was going to be the earliest the horses could be transported. Since they were still very young (both born in April), the delay was probably to their advantage.

The paddock, ready for its new inhabitants.
The paddock, ready for its new inhabitants.

In the meantime, we fenced approximately 2000 square feet of our land into a miniature horse paddock, complete with a five foot tall 8’x12’ loafing shed with a covered feed and tack room at one end. Except for having to lean over to avoid hitting my head on the roof supports, it’s the perfect setup for two or three minis.

Andee contacted Laureen at Toyland Farms and sent all the information related to the required paperwork for health certificates, Coggins testing, and import restrictions (use of fly sprays, etc.). She also arranged with a local van company in Illinois to pick up the minis and transport them to Riverside, California. That portion of the trip cost $1475 with the minis sharing a stall in the van. The van company deposited them at a ranch in Riverside where they rested for a few days while waiting for their plane ride to the Big Island. Then the big day arrived and they were transported to the airport where they were loaded into a shared stall on a cargo plane transporting a number of cattle, horses, and sheep to and from Kona. Pacific Airlift’s service was a whopping $3000 (the same amount they charge for one full-sized horse), but that covered transporting both horses overseas and coordinating the continental travel as well. Add in insurance and miscellaneous fees associated with the week of boarding and getting them to the airport and the total bill for transporting the two horses from the Chicago area to Kona ended up being right around $5000, almost as much as the price tag for the two horses. But it was worth every penny, knowing that they were being handled with care and experience every step of the way.

But getting the horses to Kona was only part of the journey. They still had to go from the airport to our place about 30 miles south. During the weeks we waited for them to arrive, we tossed around various ideas for transporting them.

Java's sweet face.
Java’s sweet face. 

Since they were still so small, and around 120-150 pounds each, we thought we probably had several options. We entertained the idea of large dog crates that we could load into the back of our pickup with some assistance from hefty helpers. We thought about putting up a canine fence between the front seats and cargo area of our Subaru Forester and simply carrying them that way. With a rubber mat lining in the cargo area, how bad could that be?

We renamed Comanche to keep with the coffee theme. Meet Mr. Bean.
We renamed Comanche to keep with the coffee theme. Meet Mr. Bean.

We considered a friend’s offer of an enormous two-horse trailer built for very tall Warmbloods, but that didn’t seem much safer than just putting in some plywood panels to raise the sides of our pickup bed and riding with them to keep them from jumping out on the way home.

But in the way things seem to fall into place here on the island, we happened into the local feed store at exactly the right moment to meet one of the few owners of miniature horses in Kona. Mike, the husband of the owner of a therapeutic horsemanship program, talked story with us a while, made some good suggestions on care and feeding of the minis in this climate, and offered the use of his miniature horse trailer to transport the horses from the airport. A miniature horse trailer – the only one on the island – and we just happened to meet the owner of it in the feed store on a day when we were about out of time to explore options. I chatted with Nancy Bloomfield, the director of Therapeutic Horsemanship Hawaii in Kona, when we got home and she not only gave great advice based on experience with her two minis here that are part of her outreach program, but she also confirmed Mike’s offer of the trailer and hauling at no cost. We agreed to meet at the airport at 2:30 on the appointed day. Everything seemed ready – all we had to do was wait for October 17.